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January 8, 2018

Q&A: Student advocating healthier choices at FHS

Photo/Cassandra Brown
“Many people don’t know how involved you can get with your community and how you can change a policy,” Fauquier High School senior Kit Harmon says.
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Staff Journalist
She hopes to make Fauquier High School a healthier place for young people.

For two years, senior Kit Harmon has advocated for healthy, tobacco-free lifestyles as a leader for the Y Street program — a statewide initiative for high school students run by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.

Through the Y Street, Kit and co-leader Nicole Bartholomaus host in-school events that encourage Fauquier High students to eat healthier and avoid tobacco use.

About 50 FHS students volunteer with the program.

During a fall semester internship with school administrators, Kit decided to focus on updating the county’s tobacco-free campus policy.

“It gave me a good way to introduce the Y Street program to the school system and introduce the policy,” Kit said. “It’s about ensuring everyone has a safe environment to learn in.”

Fauquier’s school board will vote on the updated policy this month.

The update would ban rolling papers and liquids, whether they contain nicotine or not, update signs and define penalties.

Document embedded below.

Her parents always encourage Kit to volunteer and get involved, she said.

She has moved three times during high school — from Great Falls to Ontario, Canada, and finally to Hume.

“Moving has definitely taught me to appreciate new people and new experiences,” Kit said.

Edited excerpts from an interview follow:

Can you explain the 24/7 tobacco-free school policies on which you worked?

Every school in Virginia is tobacco-free. Each county is implementing the policy required by the state, but it’s very minimal. Y Street writes out an entire policy or updates old policies.

For our county, it was eliminating wording in one of the policies that allowed for designated smoking areas. Another was adding electronic smoking devices wording to the policy.

Y Street also offers resources — articles and free signage (once the updated policy passes). If you think of a traditional sign, it’s just the cigarette with the X around it. The new sign has dip, cigarettes and electronic smoking devices so students are more aware.

It’s expanding the wording and the idea of what it means to be tobacco-free within a school.

What inspired you to get involved with Y Street?

My teacher, Karen Chipman. I had her for a couple classes last year — business law, economics and personal finance and accounting. She has to be my favorite teacher. She really inspired me to find ways to get involved with the community. She introduced me to Y Street.

In the summer of 2017, you trained to be Y Street leader in Richmond. Why?

You get more opportunities to meet with key decision-makers. That really interested me. As a student, many people don’t know how involved you can get with your community and how you can change a policy. It’s hard to imagine I was able to meet with a senator.

It was really about bettering the community. I have been so happy since I moved here. I wanted to take part as a resident and promote the success of it. It’s really important to become active in my community.

What does the program seek to do at FHS?

Create a healthy Fauquier community. Allow students the platform to have a voice and make a difference in their community. I’ve been able to talk to a senator, host my own events. I’ve really gotten involved with the community, which is nice being newer to the community.

What projects have you focused on at FHS?

There are a couple of campaigns Y Street has. One is the 24/7 tobacco-free schools. Another is Fresh Spot — collecting data around the community, outside schools, to eliminate food deserts and learn how community members feel about fresh food access.

Then there is “Great Starts with Breakfast,” which we are really starting to move forward with at Fauquier High School — implementing alternative breakfast models such as grab-and-go, second chance breakfast and in the classroom breakfast, where carts come around and students can purchase breakfast in first period. We have worked with Principal Burton and Fauquier’s school nutrition director. We have met with several people to help move that forward.

“Rev your Bev” — educating students on how much sugar is in their drinks and what healthy alternatives are. We did that last year.

How do you promote healthy, tobacco-free lifestyles at school?

We do events every once in awhile. We participated in Kick Butts Day (advocating against tobacco). It’s social media-based. We had things we were giving out to students and gave them opportunities to win prizes.

We also have lunch events where people fill out surveys. Y Street members distribute and collect surveys on each campaign. We get feedback from students on what they would like to see in schools.

On December 1, you attended a meeting with Virginia legislators to advocate and encourage more tobacco-free signs and regulations in Virginia high schools. How did that go?

I went through a slideshows explaining the work students have done, how many surveys collected and what events they have done around the state. We talked specifically about the 24/7 tobacco-free campaign.

That led to the proposal of him taking in the Y Street comprehensive policy and bringing it to the General Assembly.

What do you hope to accomplish through Y Street before you graduate?

Have the tobacco policy pass (through the Fauquier County school board) this month. Once the policy gets passed, Y Street will give us free tobacco-free campus signs. A lot of our signs are outdated. Having new signs will offer a fresh look.

I’m really hoping the breakfast model gets put into place. A lot of kids don’t know that the school serves breakfast, or a lot of kids can’t get to school that early. If you offer a to-go cart in the middle of the lobby in Fauquier High School, it would be wonderful. It’s the most important meal of the day.

Where do you volunteer?

My parents have always been involved. Moving around opened my eyes to that. Being new to so many communities made me realize how important it was to get involved. Other people were so welcoming; I wanted to offer the same thing back.

Where do you hope to attend college?

Clemson University and University of Virginia are my top two choices. I want to study computer information systems. What my parents do happens to be what I have a passion for. My brother works for Google, and my other brother is a financial analyst.

Proposed Tobacco Use policy updated 1 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Updated Tobacco-Free Schools policy 2 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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BJ · January 8, 2018 at 9:42 pm
More power to Ms. Harmon and group! Kids know they shouldn't smoke, no sign or policy is going to change that, unless you have them meet people with holes in their throats or dying from cancer caused by smoking carrying around oxygen tanks, and show them how smoking can ruin their lives (up close and personal), parents too, then this is a situation that will continue to be a problem.
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